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Universal Credit vote set to expose Tory divisions

Labour are hoping to win a symbolic victory in the vote in the House of Commons.

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PA

Tory divisions over a controversial benefit reform could be exposed in a Labour vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Labour will hope to win a symbolic victory in an opposition day vote which will call for the roll-out of Universal Credit reforms to be paused.

Up to 25 Conservative MPs are thought to be willing to rebel and back Labour in the non-binding vote and Theresa May has held talks with would-be rebels in an effort to stave off an embarrassing revolt.

It follows criticism that people on Universal Credit are waiting six weeks for any money and getting into debt.

Universal Credit combines a number of benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits into a single payment.

From October the pace of its roll-out was set to be ramped up, with 50 Jobcentres moving to the service every month.

Government figures showed 23% of new claimants do not receive their first full payment within six weeks, which has been linked to rent arrears and other debts for claimants.

Theresa May has held talks with would-be rebels.
Theresa May has held talks with would-be rebels. PA

In Wednesday's debate, Labour will call on ministers to "pause and fix" the benefit.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has insisted the roll-out will continue, with the system tweaked so claimants are offered advance payments upfront.

But he was accused by the Work and Pensions Select Committee chairman Frank Field of overseeing a department that has "no idea" about the operation of the policy.

Mr Gauke will be grilled by MPs on the committee about the roll-out on Wednesday.

  • Analysis by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen:

Last month, Labour received backing from the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up the minority Government, in opposition day votes on NHS pay and tuition fee increases, which forced the Tories to abstain on the non-binding motions.

The prime minister held talks with potential Tory rebels Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Johnny Mercer ahead of the Universal Credit vote.

But shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: "The Government has so far not listened to MPs' concerns about the mounting issues with their flagship social security programme. We must stand together to make our voices heard.

"I urge Conservative MPs to vote with their conscience and support our motion to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit.

"The social security system is meant to protect people from debt and arrears, not exacerbate their situation.

"We must pause and fix Universal Credit now, before millions are made worse off."

  • Tory MP to miss vote to run line at Champions League match
Conservative MP Douglas Ross also works as a football linesman.
Conservative MP Douglas Ross also works as a football linesman. PA

Conservative MP Douglas Ross is set to miss the vote because he will be running the lines at a Champions League football tie in Barcelona.

Mr Ross has been listed as assistant referee at the Camp Nou stadium for Wednesday night's match against Greek side Olympiacos.

The game kicks off at 7.45pm UK time - 45 minutes after MPs at Westminster are expected to vote on the Labour motion.

Mr Ross ousted the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson to win the Moray seat in June's General Election and the Tories insisted his constituents supported his refereeing work.

Mr Ross could be running out at the Camp Nou instead of the Commons.
Mr Ross could be running out at the Camp Nou instead of the Commons. PA

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: "There will be many Scottish Conservative representatives in this debate.

"Douglas has held more than 50 surgeries since becoming an MP and has met personally with (Work and Pensions Secretary) David Gauke to discuss local cases which have arisen from those."

Shadow Scotland Office minister Paul Sweeney said: "It shows a perverse sense of priorities that Douglas Ross is off working a second job in Barcelona while Parliament debates the huge damage that universal credit is causing in our society tomorrow.

"This sorry episode will leave Mr Ross's constituents in no doubt as to where his priorities lie and it's not playing the game for them."

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